Archive for November, 2010

A Manifestivus

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

“Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life… What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.”

- Albert Einstein

Look back at the history of our species and you will see countless moments of monumental shift in the grounds on which we stand. Before each of these transitions, we took for granted our way of seeing the universe. Whether sparked by Einstein, Jesus, or Picasso, our species has revolutions of the deepest kind: The previously unimaginable becomes real, and changes how we see everything.

Ponder the complex structures in our brains that give rise to consciousness and a question inevitably arises: Is the way you see yourself the only option? What would happen if the operating system in your mind was altered? Would a different kind of consciousness emerge? What might it look like?

Science tells us that, at our core, we are nested vibrations of energy, an energy that pervades the entire universe. As much as you are human, you are energy. Yet most of us experience life as human beings—not as ‘pure energy’—even though both are valid ways of seeing. Religion tells us that, at our core, we are one. That we are all interconnected, that everything we see is a part of us. That God is within us, without us—“Thou art God”. And that there are ways to directly experience this other reality, to feel it.

Maybe they’re both right. They’re saying the same thing, but speaking from different perspectives. Science speaks through a rational, causal model of the universe. Religion speaks through an experiential model. But at their essence, they are describing the same reality. Maybe the experience of ‘God’ is just a certain pattern of neurons firing in the brain—but this pattern may constitute no less than a fundamental shift in the way the mind works; the next step in our evolution.

Imagine there were a way to experience first-hand—not just intellectually—our interconnection with all things. This experience is so drastically different from the way we currently experience the world, as separate beings—it is quite literally the feeling that all things are one. From this perspective, things like death become inconsequential.

How would the first few people who first experienced the universe like this share their story with others? They would need to speak to us on our own terms, the terms of our time and culture. They would speak through metaphor and story. Millennia have passed since the first of these seers, yet most of us still fail to see beyond their metaphors to the truth that lay beyond.

Just as fossil evidence from from across the planet corroborates evolution, religious writings corroborate the common grounds of all the world’s religions. In their depths, beyond the words, they all point to the same thing. Trapped by conception, we forget that these beautiful metaphors point to experiences outside of anything we know. (Stories told with words are compelling and it is easy to see how we could get stuck.) By forgetting this, we face intolerance between religions, and a war between religion and science. We argue about the age of the earth and we hang on the words of the prophets, saying Jesus meant it this way, not that.

Perhaps we’re missing the point completely.

Religion may present the potential for a shift in human consciousness, one so foreign to our understanding that it cannot be accounted for by today’s science; one so difficult to communicate that it is misunderstood by the majority. The bickering between science and religion—between reason and spirituality—revolves around the same old questions. Maybe we’re asking the wrong ones.

Some irony is at work here. In its championing of evolution, science has neglected the possibility that human consciousness is evolving right before our eyes. In its adherence to dogma, maybe religion has neglected the universe beyond the metaphors. How would life change if religion and science ended their 500-year civil war? If spirituality and reason were seen by the world as two real aspects of a larger, inclusive universe? Imagine a union that did not simply placate each side, but fostered growth for both. Scientists could directly experience what they now know intellectually. The devout could access the beauty in science and use it as a tool, as a source of powerful imagery and as a myth of our deep interconnectedness.

Science offers religion a revelation, and religion offers science a revolution.

It’s only a hypothesis, and a controversial one at that. If it is even a possibility, though, should it not be something to be open to? The scientific and religious among us must look far beyond and deep within what we think we know, and this takes bravery, an open mind, and an open heart. Einstein put it straight: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

This is a conversation about science and spirit, religion and rationality, meditation and metaphor, art and aesthetics. The last few years have opened us up to new ways of seeing, and we’d like to discuss them. Please join the conversation in any way you’d like.